You gotta see totality!

My friend holding her eclipse shades to see the setting sun about halfway eclipsed during the 2010 TSE in El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

My friend holding her eclipse shades to see the setting sun about halfway eclipsed during the 2010 TSE in El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

I'm Charles Fulco--science teacher, planetarium director and "eclipse chaser" (more properly known as an "umbraphile"). As a kid, my first contact with an eclipse was a good one, a near miss at 96% over my hometown of Port Chester, NY in March 1970. It was enough to make the sky noticeably dim, but unfortunately not totally dark. 

Had I known then what I know now, I would have done whatever it took to convince my mother to drive us to Virginia to witness the eclipse in its totality. But, no, instead I watched it on our living room TV. My mother, like every other parent in the country, listened to Bill Cosby and other celebrities who told everyone, via public service announcements, to stay inside and watch the eclipse on television. I remember feeling cheated afterward. And I realize now that I was—we all were. Warnings by school officials, teachers, and even comedians (!) about "eclipse rays” given off by the Sun and cautionary tales of people going blind just by being outside meant we all missed the opportunity to see one of the most amazing phenomena imaginable. "Stay inside and close the blinds!" they warned. So of course we did. They didn’t know there was a safe way to view this incredible event.

It was another 21 long years before I had another chance to see a total eclipse, and it also happened to be the longest totality until 2132, so I was extra fortunate. I watched the “Big One” live from a beach near Mazatlan, Mexico. To this day, I believe it was the most magnificent and eerie and miraculous thing I have ever experienced. Since that eclipse, I've been lucky enough to be under the Moon's shadow three more times (on three different continents). Each was beautiful and each was different.

Anyone who has seen a total solar eclipse knows there is no comparison between watching an eclipse on television and seeing one live with your own eyes. On August 21, 2017, we will have an opportunity in the US to view another total solar eclipse, this one beginning in Oregon and cutting a path across the country to South Carolina. Most of the population of the United States is within a day’s drive to the path of totality.  And this is why a group of concerned scientists and educators have begun a program of outreach to dispel myths, correct "bad science," promote safe observing methods, and mostly tell everyone to "get your ass to totality!" You’ll be hearing a lot from us in the next 2 years and 11 months.

Close up of the sunset total solar eclipse over Patagonia

Michael Zeiler has generously let me have this space on his Great American Eclipse website to talk about education and the eclipse. I look forward to sharing ideas, lesson plans and everything else that teachers, students, school officials, and entire communities can do to prepare for this nationwide event. Thanks for stopping by!

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of contributions by Charles. He is a teacher on a sabbatical dedicated to developing educational plans to inspire young people to see the total solar eclipse of 2017. If you have stories to share or ideas for education, leave them in the comments section below.